Monthly Archives: July 2010

Sunday Mail Column for Sunday 11th July 2010: the one about France

I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to Bastille Day on Wednesday. I know it’s hard to tell from that little photo of me on the right but I’m completely besotted with everything to do with France. I love the language, the architecture, the fashion, the history. This obsession began in school. My grade five class was taught French once a week by Madame Strugnell – a petite woman with a chic white bob and a warm smile. Madame Strugnell created the most magical sixty minutes of my week in 1982. She had me at “Bonjour”. Ever since, I’ve been a bit of a Francophile and have yet to meet a pain au chocolat I didn’t like.

In March I met a fascinating couple – Paul Hughes and Bridget Evans. Get this:  they live six months of every year in the small town of Annecy in the French Alps and six months in Brisbane.  So they live these split lives in two very different cultures.   Paul is a former international cycling coach while Bridget has spent more than a decade as an international racing cyclist. Today they run a company called “Practice Bicycle” which offers biking holidays – for all ages and levels – in France and Italy during the European summer (go to www.practicebicycle.com for more info).

I got talking to Paul and Bridget about the mental adjustment they have to make when they return to Brisbane every September after six months in France.

“It always takes us a few weeks to get back into the way of life in Brisbane,” says Paul to me over email from his apartment in Annecy. “Most of this adjustment is positive but what jumps out at us is that everyone is in a hurry in Brisbane and seems to have very little time to say hi or stop for a coffee and swap stories!   In France, they look for any excuse to have a chat but in Australia you can almost feel the atmosphere of stress because everyone has somewhere else they need to be.”

We seem to spend a lot of time talking about the negative impact other cultures have on our “Aussie way of life”. Remind me what the “Aussie way of life” actually is?  We’re working longer hours than anywhere else in the world.  Most of us have the family/work balance totally out of whack. We get annoyed when the person in front of us at Coles wants to chat to the checkout operator. We have road rage, trolley rage, car park rage and pram rage. Do we really have it so right here? There are many cultures – Asian, Middle Eastern, South Pacifc and European – who have a greater focus on family, community and volunteering. Instead of being fearful about what immigrants are doing to our “way of life” – perhaps it’s time to stop and see what we can learn from other cultures instead? Over a café au lait and pain au chocolat, of course.

Borders Garden City, Brisbane — Book signing for Find Your Tribe

I cannot believe I’m blogging at 5.19am (I’m in that can’t-sleep-may-as-well-surf-the-net phase of pregnancy).

Anyway, I’ll be appearing at Borders Garden City today at 1pm to talk about Tribe and to sign copies. So if you’re in the area, pop in and say hello.

Meanwhile I’m still trying to get over Marion’s eviction from MasterChef. My prediction? They’ll bring her back at the end …

First Sunday Club: Spinal Injuries Association – July 2010

They’re a tough audience. Anyone who has ever fronted a room full of teenagers knows that they often bring with them a take-no-prisoners approach.  Over the past eight years I’ve learnt that if you want teenagers to listen to you then you’d better be laugh-out-loud funny or alternatively have a powerful, personal message that shocks the hell out of them. And when it comes to the latter, I don’t think anyone is doing it better than SEAT – the Spinal Education Awareness Team presenters.

It’s the first Sunday in July and this month for our First Sunday Club I’m nominating the Spinal Injuries Association.  More specifically I’m nominating their free SEAT program which sends presenters – all of whom have either quadriplegia or paraplegia – into schools to candidly talk to students about their injuries, how they got them and, most importantly of all, to share crucial safety messages. As Spinal Injuries Association CEO, Mark Henley tells me, “There is no cure for a spinal cord injury. The spinal cord is the width of a pinkie finger and has the consistency of a banana – once it’s damaged it cannot be repaired.”

Ninety Queenslanders a year sustain a spinal cord injury.  That’s one Queenslander every four days who is waking up in hospital, trying to come to terms with the fact they have lost all function and feeling from the neck or chest down. And most likely that Queenslander will be a male aged 15-30 – young men with that inherent Superman mentality.

The messages the SEAT presenters hammer home are nothing new. It’s stuff parents mutter every weekend to their own kids.  The dangers of jumping into shallow water without checking the depth first. Why you need to wear a seatbelt in a car or a helmet on a bike or skateboard. The stupidity in drink driving or texting and driving. And how the wrong tackle on a footy field can irrevocably change your life the way it did to a guy I know called Dave who became a quadriplegic as a teenager following a school footy game. He’s married now. Is a phenomenal artist. But Dave has a full time carer who helps bathe him. That’s the reality.

And see, you and I can say this stuff to our kids but the truth is it usually takes someone else to say it – to act as a living, breathing warning – for the message to hit home.

So this month I’m asking you to give $10 to the Spinal Injuries Association to help them fund their free school visits and maybe even purchase a full set of multimedia equipment for all sixteen volunteer presenters. (Each set of equipment would include a laptop, speakers, projector and accessible carry case that allows them to show up to any school prepared without having to reply on schools having working projectors.)

So donate your ten bucks at  www.spinal.com.au. And if you’d like a free SEAT presentation at your school, call 3391 2044.

Sunday Mail Column for Sunday 27 June 2010: the one about the dangers of email

I imagine that God* thinks we’re all pretty thick.  It doesn’t matter how many downfalls we witness, we seem to have great difficulty learning the dangers of putting things in writing.

Don’t get me wrong. As a writer, I’m all for, well, writing. I have boxes of old letters I can’t bear to throw away.  Birthday cards sent to me by my Nanna when I was small.  Secret stupid notes my best friend Jo and I passed to each other during Mr Selleck’s Modern History class. Bundles of loving letters my mum and dad wrote to me when I left home for London – full of recipes and newspaper clippings and news from home.

They’re as precious to me as anything I own. There’s something so lasting about a letter. And that’s the problem.

In the past year alone we’ve seen innumerable examples of people who have come undone all because they’ve forgotten the simple rule: Never put in writing what you wouldn’t want to see splashed across the front page of the newspaper.

A year ago Entertainment Books employee Abbey Sherwell famously hit the REPLY button instead of FORWARD when venting her feelings about a client.  I think it was the line “Why are all the people I deal with so f*****d in the head???” that probably pushed café owner Craig Morrissy over the edge. Morrissy replied saying he was cancelling his contract with the company and that he’d be forwarding Sherwell’s email to his business network. Sherwell, meanwhile, was sacked immediately. Apparently there’s no truth to the rumour she’s formed a support group with Godwin Gretch.

But how close have we all come to doing something similar?  That’s the problem with email.  It allows us to act immediately when our heads are far from cool.  In that moment when we’re annoyed and want to scream back, “YOU MORON!” – we can.  And we do. Often with dire consequences.

Then there are the moments when our personal emails fall into the wrong hands. A scorned lover forwards our saucy love letters to the world. One blink and you’ll have your fifteen minutes of fame, all right.  Just not the type you were hoping for.

And what about Twitter and Facebook? In our desperate bid to look hilarious – we forget that so often those people we’re publicly slagging off are actually real people. Not characters.  Our comments about someone’s hair or heritage or whatever look cruel rather than clever.

So whether you’re slagging off a Master Chef contestant on Twitter, bitching about a client or confessing your undying love for a colleague — stop. Put down the pen or step away from the keyboard. God may not be watching (She’s pretty busy keeping an eye on Lindsay Lohan, I imagine) but your employer, future employer and pretty much the rest of the world probably is.

* Or whatever higher power you may believe in: Buddha/Allah/Michael Buble etc etc

Sunday Mail Column for Sunday 20 June 2010: the one about the Mother Mafia

This time last week I was in Fiji. It was our first holiday in years. Actually, I lie.  Last year we went away for three days but Brad took his study books, I got a stomach bug and then – just to mix things up a bit – we hung out at a medical centre after Ava clocked herself in the head with – oh yes – the tiled floor. Good times.  So last week we headed to the type of South Pacific resort that offered everything we wanted in a holiday: a swim-up-bar and a Kids Club. And at the risk of sounding like I sit on the Fiji Tourist Board let me say it’s a dream holiday destination for families.  The Fijian nannies make Mary Poppins look like Joan Crawford.

Anyway.  When I wasn’t ordering mocktails by the pool, I was at the spa having pedicures absorbed in trashy magazines. And that’s where I found myself reading about Livinia Nixon and the birth of her son, Henry.  And I found myself getting peeved.  Not with Livinia. I love Livinia. Thought she was the best thing on that revamped Sale of the Century a few years back.  No, I was upset with the fact Nixon felt she had to justify why she’d had her 10lb 3oz son Henry via emergency caesarean. The article described Nixon as being “shame-faced”.

Huh? Um, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that Livinia had an emergency caesar because if she hadn’t MOTHER AND BABY MAY HAVE DIED.

Livinia’s not alone.  Thousands of women feel they must justify their childbirth (and post childbirth) decisions. We’re made to feel guilty for choosing an epidural. Or had a caesar. We have to apologetically explain why we’re bottle-feeding and not breastfeeding or – shock horror – combining the two. We’re made to feel like bad mothers because we feed our baby tinned custard instead of making our own (an issue I was berated over when Ava was eight months old). And don’t even get me started on the loaded daycare debate.

On behalf of new mothers and pregnant women everywhere, let me say two things:

  1. If you are able or choose to give birth naturally – that’s fantastic. Really. But it doesn’t make you a better person or a better mother.  It just doesn’t.
  2. Every new mother knows that breastfeeding is best. We are told REPEATEDLY by EVERYBODY. If you can breastfeed and feel comfortable doing it – fabulous. It can be a wonderful experience. But – newsflash – there are a whole lot of reasons why women decide to bottle-feed their babies. And guess what? It’s none of your business why.

When you visit a new mother, how about asking how mother and baby are doing rather than quizzing her on her choices?  Radical, I know. I’ve said before the best mother is a happy mother. So long as your baby is safe and loved (and isn’t smoking seventy cigarettes a day) – you’re doing a good job in my books.

Sunday Mail Column for Sunday 13th June 2010: the one about life after 40

It was one of those reality TV moments we’ve seen a million times before. Dom, the over-40 Charity CEO had his head in the guillotine following a dud Black Forest Cake.  George grimly asked, Why should we keep you here? Actually it probably wasn’t George. George is always eating – hunched over his food and gulping it down like a fugitive. I think it was Matt the Cravat.

So Dom tears up and mumbles how he’s over 40 and Master Chef is his last chance to grab a new career.

We all nodded. Because he was right. Once you’re over 40 nobody wants you. You’re about as popular as Jason Akermanis at Mardi Gras.

So Dom was right? Um, not exactly. Matt Preston flicked his hair (as he does) and reminded Dom the best chefs in the world are older. So if you want this dream – there’s no excuse not to go for it.

Preston knows what he’s talking about.  This imposing, late 40s, eccentric food critic with swashbuckling hair and fabulous repartee has reinvented himself as a TV star.  And he’s one of the best things to happen to TV in a long time. Which is why when surrounded by a sea of Gen Y starlets with washboard abs he walked off with the Logie Award for Outstanding New Talent. At the age of 48.

So what can you and I get from this? It’s never too late.

Another example of someone doing a career-change when forty is in their rear vision mirror is new Brisbane author Kate Hunter.  After twenty years as an advertising guru, Kate decided in 2008 to have a go at writing a kids book.  That book, Mosquito Advertising: The Parfizz Pitch, came out last week and let me tell you – it’s a cracker.

It’s a modern day Famous Five set in Toowong.  Imagine this: a group of fourteen-year-olds set up their own advertising agency (in a bid to save a local soft drink company) and decide to take on the big guns.

The second book in the series is nearly complete. A third is being planned.  I’d be surprised if a TV series doesn’t follow.  Believe me when I tell you – Mosquito Advertising: the Parfizz Pitch is a must-read for readers aged 10-15. My prediction is that a signed copy on your bookshelf could set you up for retirement in ten years time.

So there’s Kate. And there’s Matt. And they’ve both had the courage to take that leap of faith.  I can just feel you getting ready to email me with tales of mortgages and school fees and a million other reasons why you can’t fulfil your dreams. But remember – Preston still works as a food critic. Kate is still dabbling in advertising.  No one is saying you have to chuck in your full time job to fulfil your dream.  Start small.  Put aside an hour or two on the weekends.  Do a course. Just have a go.

Here endeth the lesson.

First Sunday Club: Karuna – June 2010

Before I dive in to this month’s First Sunday Club selection, I wanted to take a moment to thank readers for their generosity so far. You donated thousands of dollars to Southside Education to help them continue providing a nurturing educational environment for young women from challenging backgrounds. In particular, I’d like to give three cheers to Woolworths whose Queensland staff recently raised $11,350 to give to the school.  Similarly, the Pyjama Foundation (our May charity) is in the process of being inundated with new pyjamas for the foster children they assist.

This month I’ve chosen an organisation that holds a special place in my heart – mostly because I’ve been able to witness first hand the work they do.

Karuna is a free Buddhist palliative care service. Their mission is to support terminally ill patients – and their loved ones – and help grant them their desire to die in the comfort of their own home surrounded by the people and things they love.

I was first introduced to Karuna ten years ago when my best friend’s father was terminally ill with cancer.  After months of hospital treatment, Katie’s dad decided he wanted to spend his final months at home.

That’s where Karuna stepped in. They offered free access to highly trained and specialised palliative care nurses, counselling, social work services, spiritual support and volunteers who were on hand to do everything from running simple errands for the family to reading aloud to patients. I want to stress you don’t need to be Buddhist to access their free services. Katie will tell you her father was not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination!

It’s ten years since her father died but I asked Katie to explain the impact Karuna had on her family and specifically, on her dad.

“When our worst fears about Dad’s illness became an inevitability, we wanted to support his desire to die at home in the heart of his family; without Karuna, we couldn’t have done it.  Their nurses supported us in the technicalities of caring for dad and took care of the big stuff for us in a beautifully calm and patient way.  The organisation itself helped with the resources, equipment and logistics of home care and volunteers, nurses, counselors, a doctor and even a Buddhist nun or two were respectfully on call around the clock if required. Karuna helped us to help Dad die with the dignity he deserved in the place he loved and at the hardest of times; it was the greatest gift they could have given us.  Ten years later, the Karuna doctor who cared for dad in his last months still comes for coffee and a chat just as a friend.  Back then, Karuna became a central feature of our lives and because we want to support them in supporting others, it still is.”

This month, donate your $10 to Karuna at www.karuna.org.au or call 07 3632 8305 for address details.

Sunday Mail Column for Sunday 30 May 2010

If someone asked me to define “feminism” when I was a teenager, I think I would’ve started randomly quoting lines from “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” that 1985 vintage-pop number from Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox. Actually, even for 1985 it seemed a bit pathetic that we were celebrating women “coming out of the kitchen” and “working as doctors, lawyers, politicians too ooh-ooh-ooh.” Um, Aretha didn’t that start happening in the 50s? But who am I to question a woman wearing an orange cape hemmed with the tails of about 1000 raccoons?

Anyway.  Times have certainly changed. Many of today’s teenage girls are more switched on than ever to nurturing the sisterhood. Take the girls at St Rita’s College, Clayfield.

I was a guest-speaker at their Mother/Daughter dinner not so long ago and their principal, Mrs Dale Morrow, was proudly telling me how the year 12 leaders decided to set up their own networking opportunity.

“We had found that every leadership conference we attended was male dominated,” said St Rita’s Captain, Alex Watts. “As such we hadn’t had the opportunity of meeting other female school leaders.”

So the St Rita’s girls decided to do something about it and organised their own “Leadership Soiree” extending invitations to a number of female student leaders from around Brisbane.

“It was an opportunity to get together on informal terms where each girl shared their advice and experiences as leaders, as well as their aspirations for the remainder of their year 12 journey,” said Vice Captains Stephanie McKellear and Lauren Slinger.

I couldn’t help but be impressed with the St Rita’s girls.  I mean it’s such a simple and obvious idea – some of Brisbane’s best and brightest girls sharing knowledge and ideas. And yet – like all great ideas – I don’t think anyone had actually thought of it until now.

KDPR Director and Babes In Business Founder, Kristin Devitt was equally impressed.

“It demonstrates maturity on the part of all of the girls who took part, who are able to look beyond traditional school rivalries to share knowledge, connections and ideas,” says Devitt to me over email.

And that – according to Devitt – is the benefit of networking: sharing knowledge and ideas and making new connections and friendships.

For whatever reason women are still waaaay behind the blokes when it comes to networking. For men, networking is an enjoyable extension of the working day. They do it over a beer or a game of golf. Women on the other hand tend to feel guilty about being out of the office. And at the end of the day many women just want to get back to their kids.

Which is why Devitt and her friends created Babes In Business – an organization established eight years ago to connect women through events, mentoring programs, debates and learning.

When we step out of our silos and share knowledge and ideas – great things can happen. Not just in business but also in terms of community service and giving.  I look forward to hearing what those St Rita’s girls do next.

Sunday Mail Column Sunday 9 May 2010

So this is my second Mother’s Day as a mum and I’m delighted to reveal that I’m expecting bambino number two later this year.  Which means that I’ve taken to introducing my daughter Ava by saying, “Here’s one I made earlier”.  Ha ha.

But with the forthcoming arrival of a second baby, you naturally start to think about all the stuff you’ve learned. For example, next time I’ll know that it’s probably safe to stop sterilising my child’s bottles and sippy cups when I catch them licking the shopping trolley they’re riding in.  And then there’s the Zen-like nature required at meal times.  Last week I put a great deal of effort into making Ava a baby version of ham and pineapple pizza. I presented it to her. She studied it suspiciously then decried, “No no no no” (in a Scottish accent which was kinda weird).  Ten minutes later I found her in the pantry reading That’s Not My Dragon while simultaneously eating a dog biscuit. There are times when living with Ava is like living with Billy Connolly during his cocaine years.

And while I personally find motherhood that alluring combination of wonderful and mind numbing, joyous and draining, the best thing I have ever done but also the hands-down-hardest – I am incredibly grateful for every moment.

But on days like today I think it’s important to celebrate all women who provide mothering and nurturing to a child – whether they are linked biologically or not. And there are thousands of volunteers who work with children who deserve acknowledgement today.

I’ve said before that I believe all children need an adult in their life – who isn’t a parent – whom they can trust and go to for sound advice.  And we all have a chance to play that role.

Protect All Children Today (PACT) is a leading child protection agency dedicated to helping children through the often harrowing process of going to court.  Volunteer Child Witness Support Volunteers support the more than 1100 children each year that must testify in court as either victims of or witnesses to a crime.

“It takes a lot of courage for children to go to Court and relive a traumatic experience in front of complete strangers” says PACT’s Volunteer Coordinator, Ms Sabina Nowak.  “Courts are daunting places for adults, let alone children. Our Volunteers reduce stress by befriending the child, teaching them about their rights and their role in court and the people involved. We are right there with them as they testify. That is how we help empower children to give the best evidence they can.”

PACT is currently looking for more volunteers in the Greater Brisbane and Gold Coast area. If you’re interested in giving your time to help a child deal with the court process, call  (07) 3290 0111, or 1800 090 111 (a free call from a land line), or visit www.pact.org.au to obtain an application kit. No experience is necessary and full training is provided.  Happy Mother’s Day.